LGBTQ+ asylum seekers reveal ‘traumatising’ treatment by Tory government: ‘I’m living in fear’

An image showing a man in rainbow colours with his back turned on the left with Suella Braverman pictured on the right.

LGBTQ+ asylum seekers have shared traumatic accounts of their treatment by the UK government’s Home Office, with one declaring that she is “living in fear” due to the constant threat of deportation.

Queer asylum seekers joined key figures campaigning from LGBTQ+ immigration charities during the the LGBTQ+ Asylum & Immigration Detention panel at National Student Pride on 11 February.

Hosted by Lady Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, co-founder of UK Black Pride and executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust, the panel heard from VICE News’ Ben Hunte, Moud Goba, a Zimbabwean lesbian refugee residing in the UK and National Manager of Micro Rainbow, Rainbow Migration’s executive director Leila Zadeh, Manono, a refugee from Malawi, and Arthur Britney Joestar, the first non-binary person granted UK refugee status.

Together, the group shed light on the specific vulnerabilities faced by LGBTQ+ people claiming asylum in the UK – and how the current system is all-too-often failing them.

Left-right: Leila Zadeh, Manonon, Lady Phyll, Moud Goba and Ben Hunte on the pink carpet at National Student Pride 2023
Left-right: Leila Zadeh, Manonon, Lady Phyll, Moud Goba and Ben Hunte on the pink carpet at National Student Pride 2023. (National Student Pride)

Manono, first claimed asylum in the UK in 2012 after arriving in the country in 2004, almost 20 years ago. After being held in immigration detention, she was released back into the community but quickly found herself homeless.

“It reminded me of the way I was living life in Africa, coming here, being lesbian and being homeless, sleeping around town [in] parks, bus stops, I’ve done that. Life was really hard,” she told the National Student Pride audience.

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Manono’s latest asylum claim was launched in 2017, but a decision on whether she can remain in the UK has still not been taken more than half a decade later.

“I’m just living in fear. I don’t know what’s coming tomorrow. It’s very traumatising,” she admitted.

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Compounding the emotional toll being taken on Manono is the onus on LGBTQ+ asylum seekers to provide ‘evidence’ of their sexuality to the Home Office, which is currently led by home secretary Suella Braverman.

“I have a girlfriend, but because of the hostile [environment], the girlfriend don’t want to be involved, because even herself, she went through a lot”, Manono explained. “Imagine going to court with a girlfriend, they’re asking you questions that once you make a mistake, they’ll make a decision from that – ‘OK that means you are just lying.’

“And when you hear that, really it affects you mentally. So now my girlfriend don’t want to be involved in everything that’s happening now.” 

Left-right: Manono, Ben Hunte and Moud Goba at National Student Pride 2023's LGBTQ+ Asylum and Immigration Detention Panel
Left-right: Manono, Ben Hunte and Moud Goba at National Student Pride 2023’s LGBTQ+ Asylum and Immigration Detention Panel (Aaron Hargreaves)

While asylum claims are ongoing, asylum seekers are unable to work and are given vouchers to live on to buy essentials such as food. Manono has now been living off these vouchers for 10 years.

“I’ve never enjoyed my life since I came out as gay”, she continued. “I was thinking that coming to England, they would protect me in the way I want so that I can enjoy my life happily.

“That has never happened.”

Home Office data released August 2022 revealed that only 677 people were granted asylum or other forms of leave based on sexual orientation claims in 2021 (the data only specified LGB claims).

This was out of 1,050 initial decisions, with the number covering many cases that were lodged in previous years.

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Arthur Britney Joestar, who in 2020 became the first person in the UK to be granted refugee status over their non-binary status following a landmark ruling, shared similar experiences of having their identity minimised by the Home Office.

Arthur Britney arrived in the UK in 2017 from El Salvador, where they had been forced to life a “double life” and had suffered physical abuse by the police because of their appearance. The murder of three trans friends finally gave them the impetus to leave their home country for the perceived safety of the UK.

Left-right: Lady Phyll, Arthur Britney Joestar and Leila Zadeh at National Student Pride 2023's LGBTQ+ Asylum and Immigration Detention Panel
Lady Phyll, Arthur Britney Joestar and Leila Zadeh at National Student Pride 2023’s LGBTQ+ Asylum and Immigration Detention Panel (Aaron Hargreaves)

However, once there and coming to the understanding that they were non-binary, Arthur Britney recalled how the Home Office refused to accept evidence from witnesses and a therapist regarding their gender identity.

“They ignored it for two years, and even on paper they were still calling me ‘a gay man’,” they said.

“Even when I got granted my status, if you go online – because my decision is online – the judge on the [ruling], she questioned herself how is it possible the Home Office, even with [that] evidence, still called me a gay man for two years, ignoring that, ignoring the fact that I define myself as non-binary.”

Arthur Britney, who said they suffered bullying and came close to being physically attacked while in asylum accommodation because of their identity and HIV status, stressed that LGBTQ+ within the system are “more vulnerable” than their straight, cis counterparts.

“Someone else that gets into the system, they cannot be ignored anymore, the way I was ignored”, they concluded.

Despite the sad realities the UK asylum process for LGBTQ+ people, National Student Pride also heard how leading queer immigration charities in the UK are working tirelessly to improve the situation for LGBTQ+ people seeking safety in Britain.

Lady Phyll hosting National Student Pride 2023's LGBTQ+ Asylum and Immigration Detention Panel
Lady Phyll hosted National Student Pride 2023’s LGBTQ+ Asylum and Immigration Detention Panel (Aaron Hargreaves)

Rainbow Migration‘s Leila Zadeh reiterated that despite the “dark stories and horrific experience that people have gone through”, the charity is “trying to get this government to do things differently and to treat people kindly and with compassion”.

Highlighting the fact that the UK is “the only country in Europe not to have a time limit on detention”, Zadeh explained: “If you are put into immigration detention, it’s worse if you are LGBTQI+, because you are surrounded by people displaying the same attitudes that you have tried to escape.

“People end up being abused, sexually assaulted and verbally abused, and that can also come from the staff as well, alongside other people who are detained.”

Left-right: Manono, Ben Hunte, Moud Goba, Lady Phyll, Arthur Britney Joestar and Leila Zadeh at National Student Pride 2023's LGBTQ+ Asylum and Immigration Detention Panel
Left-right: Manono, Ben Hunte, Moud Goba, Lady Phyll, Arthur Britney Joestar and Leila Zadeh at National Student Pride 2023’s LGBTQ+ Asylum and Immigration Detention Panel (Aaron Hargreaves)

She added: “We’re campaigning hard to try to end immigration detention, or at least put a time limit on it, and just make sure that no LGBTQI+ person is ever detained.”

Last year, PinkNews launched the LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign to encourage readers to donate whatever they can to help the queer community survive and get access to life-saving help.

⁠The LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign will benefit two charities, GiveOut and Micro Rainbow, and has already raised thousands of pounds for queer refugees and asylum seekers.

You can donate to the PinkNews: LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign via our GoFundMe page.

National Student Pride saw thousands of students descend on the University of Westminster’s Marylebone campus last weekend as the UK’s largest student Pride event returned for an 18th year.

The weekend’s free day-time festival on Saturday included panel discussions on a variety of subjects, including gender identity and addiction. The event also showcased the UK’s biggest queer-inclusive careers fair and a special lip-sync extravaganza with Drag Race UK stars Danny Beard and Tayce.

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